Daniel Licht’s Downpour soundtrack is a different beast from Akira Yamaoka’s previous Silent Hill scores. If you were hoping Licht would be Akira 2.0, blindly copying Yamaoka’s style and calling it a day you will be sorely disappointed. Instead, Licht an accomplished composer of his own right, blazes his own trail with Downpour’s soundtrack and the result is nothing like what we’ve heard before in a Silent Hill game.
Believe me, as scary as that is, this difference isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a fan, I’m glad Licht has gone with his own take on a Silent Hill score. If he had just copied Yamaoka it would have paled in comparison to previous works and ultimately brought the quality of the entire soundtrack down leaving us all in tears.
It would not have been pretty.
Thankfully for sharp eared fans, Licht made the decision to go with his own style while still including nods to his predecessor’s style in Downpour’s score.
If I had to use a single word to describe Downpour’s soundtrack it would have to be “theatrical”, and it is the main reason why Downpour’s soundtrack is just so different from any of the previous game’s scores. Licht’s music has a clear, polished sound one wouldn’t typically expect from a Silent Hill soundtrack. He layers a variety of instruments and the end result is rich musical sound that frequently sounds like a large ensemble playing together. This sound style is a complete 180 from soundtracks in the past where a majority of the music had a solo/small group vibe with looping samples or Foley sounds for accompaniment.
Daniel Licht E3 2011.
So is this difference is a “bad” direction given the unpolished aesthetic of the Silent Hill games? Yamaoka’s rough solo performance style went so well with the series thus far, it’s worth asking: will Licht’s more theatrical style have the same sort of impact?
Honestly, I really can’t say based solely on just listening to Downpour’s soundtrack. Yamaoka’s work is permanently tied to memories of particular scenes and places from the games. It’s the visuals and the music working together that evoke emotional responses from me and it’s hard to judge if this new style works when the package is incomplete. To explain what I mean, take a listen to Yamaoka’s “Fermata in Mistic Air” from the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack. On its own, this melancholy track is both pretty and creepy; however, since I first heard this piece in the the Labyrinth’s indoor graveyard that contained three open graves (one of which had James Sunderland’s name) I automatically associate the song with the dread of jumping into my own grave. When tied to the visuals, the piece takes on a sinister light and evokes feelings of dread for me that it didn’t on its own. This is why I think it’s unfair to judge how Licht’s theatrical style will work for Silent Hill game’s score outside of the context of the game.
With that said, even though I can’t completely judge how this soundtrack works I can tell you that I do immensely enjoy listening to it and from the little I know of Downpour, the music seems to tie well with the themes of the game. Fair warning: I’m no music aficionado and I have no musical background so I hope those who do will excuse my ham-fisted attempts to describe what I’m hearing and why I feel this way.
The use of the mandolin creates sounds you might associate with a prison.
Licht’s music seems to have two layers to it. You can hear nods to Yamaoka’s previous work that are often tied to Silent Hill – like the strum of a mandolin or the use of white noise – but Licht also uses those sounds to invoke the emotional feel of the locations in-game. For example, in the piece “Intro Perp Walk” you hear the quintessential Silent Hill hook: a mandolin that was first used in the opening of the original game. But even as the use of the mandolin brings to mind thoughts of the original Silent Hill, it also creates the measured sounds you might associate with the steel doors of a prison rolling open and slamming shut. From what little I’ve played of Downpour in my hands-on previews, I know that this particular track does play during Murphy’s final walk through Ryall State Prison as he heads to the prison transfer bus. The sound of prison doors opening and closing definitely fits his environment at that point in the game.
Another good example is found in the track “The Ravine.” I’m not sure where this plays but given the title I assume it happens in the outlining areas of the town. Licht’s use of single ringing tones is suggestive of the wind whistling through the trees and along the rocky cliffs of a ravine, but at the same time it also carries that Silent Hill vibe of being isolated and straining to hear for oncoming danger.
Use of single ringing tones is suggestive of the wind whistling through the trees & along rocky cliffs.
The track “Welcome to Devil Pit” is very reminiscent of the tracks heard on Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 4: The Room soundtrack. To me, it brings to mind the opening refrain of Room of Angel or the piece, Resting Comfortably. I hear a single tone in both those pieces that seem to shatter into smaller tones. The fact that this track brings to mind the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack indicates a Silent Hill style sound but as in the previous Downpour tracks, this effect is also reflective of the presumed environment: Devil’s Pit. During the piece, we can hear instruments echo and reverberate much like sounds do off the walls in a cave. Once again we have a familiar Silent Hill sound also echoing the characters physical location.
This is part of why Licht’s sound is still an emotional fit to the atmosphere of Silent Hill despite being different from what we’ve seen before. Yamaoka established the “Silent Hill Sound” with the previous 7 soundtracks and Licht takes it to the next level by weaving that same sound it into the actual environment. While Yamaoka’s use of sounds and music often reflected the impression of the environment (for example, the music of Silent Hill 3 was very industrial which fit the metallic look and feel of the Otherworld environments and places like the Lakeside Amusement Park and the mall) Licht’s score reflects the physicality of the environments: slamming prison doors, wind whistling through the trees, and the echoes one would hear in a mine. Past soundtracks have never paired these things so intimately before; frequently in Downpour’s soundtrack, it’s the “Silent Hill Sound” that also embodies the sound of the environment.
Another thing I like about this soundtrack is how the music embodies what I believe will be some of the primary themes of the game: water and children.
We all know water is a heavy theme in Downpour and the percussive nature of water permeates in much of the Licht’s score and we frequently hear what sounds like the drizzle of rain or the staccato of a big downpour. For example, in “Stalking for Dinner” – just after the 1:40 mark – we hear a hook played (I think) by a hammered dulcimer that sounds like the light pattering of rain on a tin roof. As the piece continues there’s a crescendo where the lighter sounds of the dulcimer are joined by what sounds like the low notes of a piano and what sounded like a light pattering earlier suddenly becomes a deluge. We hear this rain pattern again in the later minutes of the track, “The Downpour”, in what sounds like an even more violent storm with guitars and drums joining the fray to create a more intense, panicked sound. Ultimately, it brings to my mind a storm alongside a body of water where waves are being churned up and slammed against the rocks.
Moving water is a central theme in Downpour
Even when Licht isn’t trying to portray a storm, his use of percussion instruments in many of the tracks still brings to mind water in small ways. For example, in “Cablehouse Blues” the percussion in the opening refrain and the steady and slow echoing clicks in “The Caverns” call to my mind the sound of dripping water even when a tie to water is not immediately apparent.
As I listen to the soundtrack, the theme of children also comes to mind, especially in tracks like “Meet JP.” This particular piece has a strong whimsical quality to it; in fact, the opening sounds remind me of Peter Pan: pixie dust being thrown or a music box playing a nameless nursery rhyme. I’m not sure what instrument is actually being played in the piece but it sounds to me like a xylophone. The end effect is a strong Disney movie quality to the sound that makes my mind immediately jump to children.
The theme of children is powerfully heard in “Meet JP”
This whimsical sound also appears in the track “Railcar Ride.” I remember, during my hands-on back in December, Murphy traveled through parts of the Devil’s Pit on a mine car ride that was meant to be an educational ride primarily for children. If this piece plays in game where I believe it does, this whimsical feel really fits. In fact, now that I think about it, I remember thinking when Murphy got on the ride that it reminded me a bit of Disney’s “It’s A Small World” (without the annoying song) which again ties back to the Disney-esque sound of the other piece.
Beyond any specific piece, I found that many of the tracks have a forlorn and abandoned feeling to them and, as we all know, one theme that crops up a lot in Silent Hill is the abandonment (accidental and deliberate) of children.
As impressed as I am with how the soundtrack conveyed the themes of the game, there are aspects of the soundtrack that disappointed me. First and foremost was how little Silent Hill vocal veteran, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn was utilized! As happy as I was to hear her familiar crooning in “Bus to Nowhere” and “The Perp Walk”, her appearance was far too brief and it felt like such a tease. On my first listen I remember hoping that after “The Perp Walk” she would reappear as a lead vocal later in the album, but my wish never came true. The only lead vocal track on the soundtrack is Jonathan Davis’ “Silent Hill” theme which, admittedly, isn’t that bad and has grown on me the more I listen to it, but I still find myself wishing it was Mary’s vocals instead; her performances on previous Silent Hill soundtracks were always my favorite tunes from those albums.
I’m also not too fond of the track “Clowning Around With Monsters” because I find the maniacal laughter annoying. I’m sure that this will be a very creepy track to hear in game but as a piece of music on it’s own I find myself immediately hitting the skip button. What’s funny is that in Yamaoka’s last soundtrack for Silent Hill Shattered Memories there’s a track called, “Devil’s Laughter”; it also incorporates maniacal laughter that I’m not fond of and I did that exact same thing when I heard it!
Overall, I really enjoyed listening to Daniel Licht’s Downpour score but, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I can’t fully judge it until I see it incorporated into the game. It has a lot of promise though and I’m looking forward to hearing it in context next Tuesday, March 13th when Downpour is released.